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Boston (Massachusetts) based songwriter Susan Cattaneo has been earning a living as a songwriter for a long while. She spent some time in Nashville writing modern country and has latterly been a teacher of songwriting at Boston’s Berklee College of Music.  In the last few years she has revived her recording and performing career and this new album marks something of a turning point in her life. For the first time, she says, she has written songs with herself in mind as the performer and, in doing so, she has embraced a darker, deeper running current than normally to be found in country chart music. This album has its own sound, not quite like anyone else I can think of, but it certainly owes as much to the noir sounds of alt-country as it does to her commercial country training.

Working with a fine selection of musicians under the guidance of producer Lorne Entress, she cultivates a sophisticated sound that seduces the ear with practised skill; each song draws you into its own particular atmosphere and, although she says she starts with the hook when she’s writing a song, nothing here has the easy flow that many Americana writers seem to achieve. Rather, it’s as if each track is a piece of music with story attached; we’re never knocked out by a big chorus or an easy tune but we are engaged by the collective musical intelligence at work. Every now and then I hear something akin to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s work – the self-confident understatement that makes clear the serious intent of the work.

The lyrics are really strong, full of insightful phrases that bring the ‘ouch’ factor to tales of love gone stale that are a bit of a recurring theme here. Her writing has a broad reach:  Lorelei is a murder ballad of sorts, Revival is a wry take on the old phenomenon of the travelling preacher and John Brown revisits the tale of the abolitionist who was the subject of a Civil War marching song. All the way through, her singing impresses tremendously; she has a warm voice which seems to encompass darker lower register sounds as easily as higher, purer sounds. There is a strength and deliberation in her delivery that ensures she is always on top of the song, no matter how full the band sound swelling behind her. I have a nagging feeling that she could really have done with the one killer track that never quite gets delivered; Worth The Whiskey (a tale of one wounded woman’s defiance) could have been it but somehow it ends up a bit under-powered. Occasionally, too, there is a bit of a mis-match between the arrangement of a song and the real pain to be found in the lyrics but, overall, this is an impressive album and Susan Cattaneo, as writer and singer, is an impressive talent. 

John Davy

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September 2018

1
The Devil Makes Three
70 pts.
Chains Are Broken
New West
FC,JB,RK,TJ,LK
2
Jimmy LaFave
65 pts.
Peace Town
Music Road Records
PKO
3
Malcolm Holcombe
48 pts.
Come Hell Or High Water
Gypsy Eyes Music
FB,JBO
4
Cody Canada & the Departed
47 pts.
3
Blue Rose Records
CVL,DHO
5
Jeffrey Foucault
43 pts.
Blood Brothers
Blueblade Records
MB,SZ
6
The War And Treaty
42 pts.
Healing Tide
Thirty Tigers
FCE,AL,MG
7
Martha Fields
40 pts.
Dancing Shadows
Independent
SP,DH,RST,RW
8
The Weight Band
35 pts.
World Gone Mad
Must Have Music
DD,CRS,BM
9
David Olney
32 pts.
This Side Or The Other
Black Hen Music
LM
 
The Black Sorrows
32 pts.
Citizen John
Blue Rose Records
 
11
Robbie Fulks and Linda Gail Lewis
31 pts.
Wild Wild Wild
Bloodshot Records
GS
12
Hadley McCall Thackston
28 pts.
Hadley McCall Thackston
Wolfe Island Records
 
 
Nathan Bell
28 pts.
Er Gwaetha Pawb a Phopeth
Angry Stick
PK
14
Curse Of Lono
26 pts.
As I Fell
Submarine Cat Records
MM,JF
15
Ryan Martin
25 pts.
Gimme Some Light
High Moon
 
 
Stephen Simmons
25 pts.
Gall
Locke Creek Records
TK,HDB
17
Jason McNiff
23 pts.
Joy And Independence
At The Helm Records
 
 
Jim Lauderdale
23 pts.
Time Flies
Yep Roc
 
 
Kevin Gordon
23 pts.
Tilt and Shine
Crowville Media
MP
20
Eliza Gilkyson
21 pts.
Secularia
Red House Records
KG,JJC
21
Boz Scaggs
20 pts.
Out Of the Blues
Concord Records
BH,JSM
 
Lucero
20 pts.
Among The Ghosts
Thirty Tigers
JJ
 
Melissa Carper & Rebecca Patek
20 pts.
Brand New Old-Time Songs
Independent
MW
24
The Jayhawks
17 pts.
Back Roads and Abandoned Motels
Legacy
 
25
Lori McKenna
16 pts.
Tree
Cn Records

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